A few Sundays back, while I was eating a bagel, smeared with low-fat PB and sugar-free jam, the pastor of another local church, whose services are televised, made this statement to the church in a very gentle and humble way. “We want you to be well. We want you to be healed. We want you to have an abundant life in Jesus Christ.”
His statement brings us to a fourth expectation for GCF: EXPECT to be healed.
In Matthew 4.24 we find these words, “News about him spread throughout Syria and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases . . . and he healed them.” Matthew 8.1-9.34 recounts several amazing stories where Jesus takes authority over illness and the forces of nature. Obviously, healing was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry.
Because Jesus, according to the Great Commission, confers upon us something of his authority, we should not doubt that God intends for the community of his followers (the church) to be a place of healing.
We tend to focus on two types of healing.
First, there are physical healings. Quite often, the church is more than prepared to be the recipients of this type of healing. When beloved friends within the church are made well or recover successfully from illness, we are quick to give God thanks for his healing powers.
Within traditions that emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about manifestations of God’s coming kingdom, there is usually a strong emphasis on God’s ability to heal instantaneously. This belief is shared by charismatic traditions, such as ours, and by liturgical traditions, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Episcopalean churches.
We expect that God will bring about physical healings when those healings will be for his glory and will hasten the coming of his Kingdom.
On a second frontier, there is emotional healing. It is this kind of healing that the Pastor, mentioned earlier, was referring to when he was talking to his congregation. Churches are usually not prepared for emotional healing because it tends to be a messier, stickier and more time-consuming process.
In an age when people flock to therapists (which is not a bad thing – I am trained as one, after all), turn self-help books into New York Times best sellers, and make programs like Dr. Phil and Oprah day-time hits in the Nielsen ratings, the church has an important word to speak to the greater culture about emotional healing. That word? That healing comes when we are no longer focused on the extent of our wounds but are focused instead upon the healing that flows from the wounds of Jesus Christ and the wholeness that might be ours through his resurrection.
There is no emotional healing that is complete apart from eyes and ears that are turned toward and tuned into Jesus.
Andrew Comiskey – a great writer in the area of emotional brokenness and healing - notes the following steps toward healing in his book Strength in Weakness. After outlining these steps, I want to suggest how the community of Jesus’ followers (the church) can facilitate such a process and become a body where emotional healing is not the exception, but the rule because people are focused on Jesus.
Comiskey’s Steps: (1) Take time to acknowledge our wounding, (2) Seek out safe people who can help bear our burdens, (3) Feel freely, (4) Take authority over wordly sorrow that brings death and refuse the invitation of hopelessness, (5) excercise the power of the resurrection by forgiving our wounders.
How the church can facilitate these steps so that we can expect emotional healing:
Challenge people to see their woundedness. OK, as a counselor I have sat with more than one person who could never see beyond the end of his or her own nose. Whether legitimately or illegitmately, these people were so wrapped up in their own woundedness that they were unbearable and draining on almost everyone with whom they came into contact. There are plenty of these folks out there, but they are usually the exception.
Instead, most people forsake their woundedness by ignoring it or covering it up. This is quite common in churches. We become so focused on spiritual disciplines or goals for church growth or accomplishing “things” for the kingdom of God that we never allow the healing power of Jesus Christ to actually touch our wounds in such a way that we can become as-complete-as-possible bearers of his image in the world. This is sad because, as those called to bear his image, we end of robbing the world of the fullness of his presence.
The church can first become a place of emotional healing by doing what Jesus did: challenging religious folks to give up the quest for religious perfection and see the wounded and sinful creatures that we are when we do not know the full measure of his grace.
Be a community of “safe” people. While praying yesterday, the Lord impressed upon my heart Psalm 101.1-6. I memorized those verses. At one point, Psalm 101 finds David saying this, “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, I will put to silence.” Obviously, an important step in becoming a community of “safe” people is to make sure that we do not gossip and that we put to silence those within the church who do gossip.
Being a community of safe people also requires humility. The great preacher Haddon Robinson occasionally begins some of his sermons by praying, “Lord, if these people knew what was really in my heart, they would not listen to a word I have to say.” Being a community of safe people means realizing that those who are wounded are no greater, nor any less a sinner than we are. When we understand the depths of our own sin and the expanse of God’s grace and salvation, we can truly help another person bear his wounds into the presence of the One whose wounds bring our healing.
Feel Feelings. Tullian Tchividjian in his book Unfashionable notes that the church must learn to be angry at the evil works of the enemy in the world. Too often, the church has been silent while both injustice and unrighteousness have been perpetrated in the world. And when the Christian community has become angry, it has usually been anger focused on a person or a group of people; not at the greater problem of evil.
Tchividjian is right in telling us that the church needs to shed more tears of sorrow, of mourning, of frustration, and of anger about brokenness in this world. We need to see this world through God’s eyes and we need to become conduits of the Father’s emotions for this world in this world.
When the church learns to feel pain and sorrow, grief and agony, heartache and anger at the enemy’s work in the world, then those who see our emotions will learn that they too can begin the journey of pain and sorrow, grief and agony, heartache and anger that will set them on the journey of emotional healing.
Be a Sign of Hopefulness. The church must be a marker of hope in the midst of a world of despair. There are three practices of the church that make us such a marker.
First, we are to care for one another. Providing meals for others church members during a time of need is one example. But doing this outside of our body is also important. Projects like GCF’s Backpack and Snacks where we provide weekend meals for children who may not get any square meals between lunch on Friday and breakfast on Monday morning is yet another way for us to be a marker of hopefulness in a world of despair. By caring for one another, we exercise the power God has given us to take authority over hopelessness. Beyond meals, we can pray for one another, listen to one another, and help one another in a myriad of ways.
Second, we can call the world to be focused on the hope that is ours through Jesus Christ. The message of the church must always be one of a hope that can personally belong to each and every person through the death, resurrection and the coming return of Jesus Christ.
Third, we can teach people how to take spiritual authority over their hopelessness. The war against hopelessness must be waged in the spiritual and emotional realm as well as the physical realm and the Bible offers ample teachings on waging that war in both spheres.
Be an Example of Forgiveness. Within the community of Jesus’ followers (the church) there is plenty of room for people to wound one another. The church is, afterall, not only a place where God wants us to learn how to receive his grace, but also how to give his grace to others. When we model forgiveness and perserverance in the midst of the woundedness that takes place within the body of Christ, we are making room for people to learn to forgive – over time – those who have wounded them. And the forgiveness that they learn to show will not be the forgiveness modeled by five steps in a self-help book, but will be the very forgiveness of Jesus Christ that has the power to turn the old and the decaying into the new and the eternal!
It’s a great expectation, GCF: expect healing!